The School Ranking List Harvard Doesn’t Top

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Memorial Church at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

Think you’ll be making top dollar with that Harvard diploma hanging on your wall? Sure, the Cambridge, Mass. university topped U.S. News & World Report’s annual list of the best colleges in the nation (again), and is third best in the world according to the QS World University Rankings. But no matter how many accolades Harvard rakes in or how much praise it garners, its graduates are paling in comparison to their peers at lesser institutions in one crucial field: starting salary. It’s a list on which Harvard ranks #37.

If money is your object, skip the liberal arts degree from the country’s oldest college and instead look toward a degree from a specialty university. Though the career options might not thrill you, the salaries certainly will. Take, for example, under-the-radar institutions like Loma Linda University near San Bernardino, Calif., or the South Dakota School of Mining and Technology (SDSMT) in Rapid City, S.D. According to a survey by PayScale, Loma Linda grads average salary after graduation is $64,600, thanks to a smattering of degrees in lucrative medical fields including dental and nursing assistants. The 2,300 students graduating with a SDSMT diploma this year will earn an average of $56,700. That highly coveted Harvard degree, on the other hand, will net new grads a median salary of $54,100. Though their Cambridge peers scored nearly double on the SATs, the SDSMT students score bigger paychecks thanks to far more opportunities available in computer science or engineering fields that the school caters to.

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SDSMT students find opportunities with multinational employers like Halliburton and Caterpillar, according to PayScale’s survey, which the company has conducted annually for the past eight years. Katie Bardaro, Payscale’s lead economist, told ABC News that the highest-ranking colleges tend to be those that concentrate on engineering, nursing and health sciences. Indeed, both the Colorado School of Mines and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology will net you a higher salary immediately after graduation than Harvard.

Especially at a time when students are drowning in debt and face massive loan payments falling due just months after graduation, it can’t hurt to pad the piggybank with your first job. Of course, the earnings comparison equals out within a few years, as Harvard grads tend to command higher salaries toward the middle of their careers. (PayScale’s starting salary number was gathered from graduates who had fewer than five years of experience and had graduated with only a bachelor’s degree in their chosen fields.)

But those looking to truly make the most of their education should look past Harvard and down the Charles River: the school that boasts the highest pay in the U.S. for recent graduates is the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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